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The enduring business case for the Butterball Turkey Talk Line

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Alexa, how do I thaw a frozen turkey?

Butterball’s announcement earlier this month that it had added Amazon’s virtual assistant to its Turkey Talk Line customer communication options was met with an onslaught of poultry-related puns, but for those who know what to look for, the decision is just another example of why Butterball’s customer engagement plan continues to stand the test of time.

“This is brilliant content marketing,” said MIT Sloan senior marketing lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee. “Really good content marketing is where you can connect with your target market; you are not making a sales pitch. You’re giving them something valuable to develop a relationship. If you do it right, the sales should come.”

And they have.

Although its staff started with “six home economists,” more than 50 experts are now behind the Butterball hotline.

According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, in 2016 Butterball was the largest U.S. producer of turkey products, producing about 1 billion pounds of turkey each year. The hotline might be a punchline for late night talk show hosts, but it’s doing something right for its bottom line. Chatterjee credits its decades-long success to the three Rs of content marketing: resources, relevance, and relationships.

Resources

According to Butterball’s website, the Turkey Talk Line opened in 1981. The call center was staffed by “six home economists” and answered 11,000 cooking questions its first season.

Since that first holiday season, the talk line has added a variety of features to reflect changing customer needs. The phones are now staffed by more than 50 experts, including Spanish speakers and male customer service representatives. More than 100,000 questions are answered each season from customers in the United States and Canada.

Along with traditional phone lines, customers can reach Butterball’s turkey experts through social media, texting, and, now, Amazon Alexa assistants.

“It’s brilliant resource allocation,” Chatterjee said. “Yes, they started with six home economists, but they expanded. And they’re not only offline but online. They really resourced it well.”

Relevance

The hotline’s adaptive resources have allowed Butterball’s customer service to stay relevant, despite the changing times.

It also helps that Butterball isn’t robocalling homes on Thanksgiving morning. Instead, the company lets word-of-mouth do the marketing work.

“It’s not a push, it’s a pull,” Chatterjee said. “Customers are coming to you, as opposed to you seeking out individuals and calling them.”

Relationships

Butterball also knows how to tap into the valuable relationship between customers and the holiday season, Chatterjee said.

Unlike tax season, for example, which happens in rainy April and can be accompanied by anxiety and frustration, Thanksgiving conjures up happier emotions tied to family and friends.

Even a stressful cooking situation can be associated with memories of a cozy kitchen — and Butterball knows that.

“They’re able to connect with the warm, fuzzy feelings of the holiday season,” Chatterjee said. “When the opportunity presented itself, they took advantage of it.”

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